CourseraHow embedding in-demand skills can help UAE graduates

How embedding in-demand skills can help UAE graduates

Engaging with business and providing students and alumni with options to add additional skills now or later in their careers can help prepare graduates for the future workforce

Working with industry to embed in-demand skills in curricula and design real-world assessments can boost graduate employability in the UAE, a round table panel agreed.

The Times Higher Education event, held in partnership with Coursera, invited leaders from academia and industry to discuss how to improve student attainment and employability in the UAE with skills education.

Chair Ashton Wenborn, special projects deputy editor at THE, said graduate employability had become a “pressing issue”, with universities increasingly focusing on skills-based education and creating lifelong learners.

Mohammad Fteiha, associate dean of academic affairs at Abu Dhabi University, said his institution had identified eight skills – including effective communication, leadership and teamwork – that were embedded into curricula at the university.

“It’s not only taking theoretical information from our courses, [students] are also empowered with the main competencies that future employers are looking for,” Fteiha said.

Alex Zahavich, chief academic officer at Higher Colleges of Technology, said engaging with industry was crucial to understand the needs of employers. “You have to have the proper assessors and you have to have that proper relationship with your industry partners,” he said.

“All of our programmes have work experience and work-integrated learning embedded so that the students get to actually practise what they’re learning in the labs and classrooms. And we have employers that assess, on the job, the student’s ability to demonstrate those skills in a real work environment,” Zahavich said.

Kerry Houchen, partnerships director at Coursera, said data from the platform’s 87 million learners showed skills in cybersecurity, data analytics and AI were in high demand from employers. She said universities were exploring how to pair their core degree offering with courses in those skills required across industries.

“Regardless of your industry, whether it’s accounting, whether it’s healthcare…data analysis and the basics of AI are affecting our daily lives, but also our working lives,” Houchen said.

Abhilasha Singh, vice-president for academic affairs at American University in the Emirates, said the university was working with industry to design assessments based on workplace problem-solving.

“It is not just the faculty supervisor who is grading the student, it is the industry supervisor, and more weight is given to the industry supervisor,” she said. 

Asked how employability fits into the UAE’s Centennial 2071 Plan, Maamar Bettayeb, vice-chancellor for research and graduate studies at the University of Sharjah, said lifelong learning would have to become “automatic”. 

“In all parts of the world, many jobs are at risk and therefore for somebody to sustain his job and make progress, he has to sustain his knowledge,” he said.

Ayesha Abdullah, vice-president of academic affairs and dean of the business school at Higher Colleges of Technology, said among the university’s 75,000-strong alumni there was “huge demand” for additional technical skills, but also “soft” skills.

“Because more and more when we talk to our industry partners, they’re saying ‘the technical skills are fine, but we also need people who are flexible, agile, persistent and persevering’,” she said.

Thomas Hochstettler, provost at Abu Dhabi University, questioned whether there was too much focus on the “formal aspect of education”.

“I think students have to come at education from their own perspective,” he said. “And as educators we have to envision what they need not just going into day one on their first job, but their second career, their third career, their fifth career 30 years from now. What do we need to provide in order for them to be prepared for that?”

The panel:

  • Dr Ayesha Abdullah, vice-president for academic affairs and dean of the business school, Higher Colleges of Technology
  • Dr Naseem Abidi, dean, Skyline University College
  • Dr Addel Al Ameri, vice-president for strategy and excellence, Higher Colleges of Technology
  • Dr Belkeis Altareb, dean, Zayed University
  • Dr MohammadFteiha, associate dean of academic affairs, Abu Dhabi University
  • Dr Thomas Hochstettler, provost, Abu Dhabi University
  • Kerry Houchen, partnership director, Coursera
  • Professor MaamarBettayeb, vice-chancellor for research and graduate studies, University of Sharjah
  • Professor Abhilasha Singh, vice-president for academic affairs, American University in the Emirates
  • Ashton Wenborn, special projects deputy editor, Times Higher Education (chair)
  • Dr Alex Zahavich, chief academic officer, Higher Colleges of Technology

Watch the round table on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

Find out more about Coursera for Campus.

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